One day, we got a phone call from my brother, asking if my husband was excited to go see the movie "300" and whether we wanted to go with him.
"I don't know. What is that?" we asked.
We pulled up a preview online and my jaw dropped-- a movie about one of his favorite stories? He would be ecstatic. And I would be bored. :) However, there was something slightly intreguing that struck me. In watching the preview, I saw something that will forever illustrate for me what the experience getting to know of the inside of my man's mind looks like. I recognized him and the way he thinks in it.
Madness? This. is. Sparta.
On the surface, it's a now-famous movie scene that most people think is awesome. But imagine living the mental equivalent of those actions on a daily basis. Nowadays, we don't think a guy who acts like King Leonidas is "good." We call him a jerk. And yet to the ancients he was a noble king! It gave me pause.
I sent them off together to watch it and settled into the couch with the baby and a chick-flick.
A short while later, I got a phone call.
It was my husband, calling from the lobby of the theater in the middle of the movie. He was calling to tell me he would watch the baby so that I could go and see the movie myself, and that it was important to him.
"That good, huh?" I said, yawning.
His response was wounding:
"You need to see this movie so you can learn how to be a wife."
At the time, I'm not gonna lie, I thought: "Why the hell did I marry this creep?"
Here I was, busting my butt to be the perfect wife, doing everything I could to make sure the miserable, tiny studio apartment we lived in was clean, the cookies were fresh-baked, the baby was happy, he was happy... and here he was, watching some movie and getting inspired by some dumb character. To hell with him.
But I grimaced and set my face into a smile: "OK, babe." I said.
I walked into that movie ready to hate Queen Gorgo's guts and plotting ways to let him have it and/or make my escape from our marriage.
I walked out shamed, humbled, and a better wife.
You see, my husband is a FANATIC of all things classically manly, from Braveheart and Rob Roy to Appaloosa and Last of the Mohicans, and especially when it comes to the Classical world.
In my house, we alternate read-alouds of all the epic tales with viewings of Alexander, Troy, Rome, Clash of the Titans, and The Odyssey.
In the beginning, I used to grumble. These stories seemed to have nothing to offer me- they were all about men who lived long ago in settings I couldn't relate to and stories of battles and war. But once I quit complaining and started listening, I have come to learn that in the quiet, hidden lives of the wives of these men, the great heros of civilization, I have learned almost everything I need to know to be a wife.
In the case of the film version of the story of Queen Gorgo and King Leonidas, for example, there is much to learn. Sure, on the surface, it's a hollywoodized cheesy love story, a background to the story of an epic battle thrown in to keep the guys' attention. But the story of the Brave 300 is a true one, and was taught to all the ancients.
Imagine BEING Gorgo. Imagine being married to a man who has weighty responsibilities outside the home and who was raised and leads in a culture where women play second fiddle to the men because there is so much need for heavy military action. Being married to a man who simply doesn't have time for our crap.
Whenever I reflect on how women's roles have changed, I am disheartened, for though it was hard to be a women in any age of history when men "held the power positions" and women were at their mercy, it is possibly just as challenging to us to live in a culture where women have been raised to "equality" at things which they are not equal in, and further difficult to live in a culture where women are expected to be both men and women.
Throughout history, good wifehood has been "not optional." There have been times and places where if women were NOT "wives of valor," they were killed, abused, or left to fend for themselves and die. In some situations, even when they were.
Now I'm not saying that we should go back to these times, for obviously we have become "civilized" by our understanding that women and children come first, (the Titanic taught us that, right? :D)
But as a woman who is married to a man which I call "savagely civilized," by virtue of his upbringing in which there was no female influence and in which he was taught that military prowess, survival ability, and furthering the cause of civilization while protecting his land were the ONLY worthy pursuits, I can tell you that the "wildness" of man, which was wholly unknown to me before I married one, serves a needed purpose in society.
And in my marriage! In being married to a man who is uncompromisingly Spartan and ""manly" I have learned many things. It has been like a boot camp, in which every shred of physical, mental, or emotional weakness has been stripped from me. At the same time...
I have developed courage for situations I would never have imagined facing.
I have learned that respect is earned and not given. And that we must give it to earn it.
I have learned that good communication does not need words.
I have learned that there simply are. no. excuses.
I have learned that pain is weakness leaving the body.
I have learned that nothing is easy, but we have to do it anyways.
I have learned that pain is temporary, and pride is forever.
I have learned that a good soldier obeys orders, even when they don't make sense.
I have learned that there simply is no room for petty foolishness in progress.
I have learned that I'll sleep when I'm dead... and that's ok.
I have learned that I'll be doing it "right" the day I do it all.
I have learned that there is truth to the message that there is glory in the Cross and in suffering well.
I have learned to care for myself without requiring others to do it for me.
and many, many other lessons along the way.
Whenever my marriage gets tough, I will often say to myself: "I'm upset now. And rightly so! This is unjust. But how would my sisters who have gone before me, married to the most difficult of men, have reacted? What did the ancient mothers do? What have the saints done?"
Penelope endured years of faithfulness and courage in the face of single motherhood, war and disappearance and was rewarded for it. Queen Gorgo endured the challenges of motherhood to a man whose difficult respect she had earned by the sweat of her brow. There are more than 25 patron saints of difficult marriages, among them Monica and St Rita of Cascia, who were married to men who were both difficult, unbelieving, and abusive. And yet they THRIVED in these environments, not only becoming saints themselves but raising saints and helping all people to survive with grace the most challenging aspects of life.
Queen Gorgo had unfaltering respect for her man, even when he doubted himself or she doubted him.
She had courage and an uncomplaining spirit. She had physical and mental agility to complete the tasks required of her position as Wife, Mother and Queen. She knew well the expectations of her role and did what she had to in order to earn not only the king's RESPECT, but his love and devotion. She was able to know him well enough to think like him to lead in his place. When she finally broke down and wept, it was in dignity and honor, not in a loss of control. She earned the love and respect of her husband, not by manipulating him with her emotions or demanding communication and "fairness" but rather by using her womanly strengths: tenderness and the touch of beauty, combined with her inner belief in the importance of what they were both doing... building a strong, honorably, and worthy society.
Queen Gorgo was the daughter of a King of Sparta, the wife of a second king of Sparta, and the mother of a third king of Sparta. What an honor was given to this woman, and how much we can all learn in our marriages from studying the story of her life and the lives of all the "hidden" wives behind the great heros of mythology and history.
There were other city-states, and ancient men of different breeds reigned in them, providing a much needed venue for learning philosophy and the arts. There were wives of different sorts there... and if your husband is more like the athenians, you wives who would do well to study the lives of the ancients there to learn what skills were needed to help them do what they did best. Athens was the cradle of civilization.
Sparta was different. Sparta was savage, and it was thanks to Sparta that Athens was free to grow and thrive. In our modern world, we need both.
As we homeschool our children, teaching them the Classical liberal arts that derived from the wisdom of ancient greece, they are lucky enough to grow up in the home of a "savage" Spartan, getting the best of both worlds. It is fitting, then, that over time I've come to learn to love the wisdom left me by the ancient mothers of Greece, mothers like Penelope who, in a speech that stirs when she describes how the poor choices of other wives and women (in this case, Helen of Troy) have affected her, laid it all out for us to witness:
My dears, heaven has been pleased to try me with more
affliction than any other woman of my age and country. First I
lost my brave and lion-hearted husband, who had every good
quality under heaven, and whose name was great over all Hellas and middle Argos, and now my darling son is at the mercy of the winds and waves, without my having heard one word about his leaving home."
That very difficulty is the one that gave her glory that has lasted throughout all the ages... Glory which inspires and helps us women who know her story to live by the values which form lasting virtue to inspire our daughters in the future and help them to build up a society that changes the face of the world.
So the next time your husband kicks back to watch a "man" movie, quit whining and take a seat next to him. Or, after a fight, when you're tempted to wallow in the bittersweet loveliness of watching your favorite chick flick with a tub of ice cream, try throwing in a "man" movie instead and laying off the ice cream. You might come out a better wife.
After all... if you're like me and This. Is. Sparta.... there's no room for weakness here.